Space Destinations: More Than Just Rocks?

Dan Lester and Giulio Varsi in The Space Review:


Human space exploration has traditionally been inspired by ultimate destinations beyond the Earth and designed to reach them efficiently and safely. Specifically, these destinations have been bodies in our solar system. This contribution to The Space Review proposes that, as we enter the 21st century and the sixth decade of modern space exploration, a fresh analysis be undertaken of the value of different classes of destinations—including specifically locations not characterized by solid materials (rocks, ices, “soils”) or gravity. We consider whether priorities of similar worth could then be pursued on the basis of the half-century of advances in technology and space exploration experiences. In many respects, free space destinations such as Earth and planetary orbits and, specifically, the Lagrange points may have more value than planetary surfaces for investigating certain important aspects of our place in the Universe. In what respects is this traditional focus on rocky surfaces and gravity strategically driven, and in what respects is it just moot repetition of the past? Certainly our national goals for space exploration involve more than just science. However, a large amount of the science we want to do in space has little need for surface locations and, in fact, would benefit by not relying on them at all.

More here.